Dealing with Criticism

What makes me feel this way?

What is it that makes one feel worthless? Is it something that someone said or did? Neither one of these could possibly be the reason. Feeling worthless and nervous stems from an annoying internal dialog that you are engaged in, hosting sabotaging non-realistic thoughts. This explanation is scientifically proven. In fact, even when you are at the mercy of another person, the reins of your unique interpretations are in your hands. Understanding that this is how our negative emotions are being manufactured is an essential prerequisite before starting to discuss external criticism.

External criticism often produces an internal self-beating process. Many depressive episodes stem from lacking the set of skills to cope with criticism. The question arises, how come some are deeply offended by criticism while others remain calm? How do they do that? The answer is simple – it is a learned skill. The more experienced one becomes, the easier it gets. Acquiring the ability to not get offended by criticism requires patience and practice.

The source of our emotions are our interpretations

Allow me to start by saying something outrageous: what other people are saying about you is not the reason for your pain. I repeat – you have never been hurt by what others had critically slammed at you, no matter how offensive, cruel and humiliating their comments were. What people say to you have no real ability to cause you even the slightest discomfort. Well, I can only guess what you must be thinking about me and my sanity right now. Yet, I insist – the assembly line of your sense of insult and all other emotions you might be feeling is nowhere but in your own head. It is all about your interpretation of things you are being told. Allow me to explain.

When you are being criticized, negative thoughts are instantly and automatically formed in your head. These very thoughts are the source for the painful insult you are feeling, not the criticism itself. Emotional response is a result of your own thoughts and not of the words you heard. The pain stems from your personal subjective interpretation of what was said to you. For example:

  1. Your reasoning could have made the wrong assumption, accepting criticism as credible, while you do not know whether it is right or wrong.
  2. You could be exaggerating the importance of the mistake you allegedly made; therefore, you overestimate the importance of the criticism.
  3. It is possible that you assume you cannot correct your mistakes and flaws; therefore, you make non-realistic catastrophic predictions.
  4. You may believe your mistake will keep happening in the future time after time.
  5. You may have been ignoring your successful experience, focusing on your mistake only.
  6. You could be labeling your wrong behavior as “a personality issue”.

Overcoming Cognitive Distortions

The first step to a healthy skillful way to address criticism would be rerouting sabotaging thinking patterns. That means learning how to identify your own thoughts, capture them as they fly around in your head as butterflies, take a close look at them and realistically inspect them. We use various techniques for learning that skill, helping you identify your thoughts, pinpoint the cognitive distortions affecting your thoughts and then come up with reasonable realistic alternative interpretations beyond the automatic ones.

When you adopt realistic thinking, interpreting your situations without falling into automatic cognitive distortions, the waste of mental and emotional energy will stop, unnecessary negative emotions will disappear, and you will be able to spend your energy more usefully and creatively. When practicing these techniques for long enough, they become a new habit.

How to respond to criticism?

As a starting point, criticism can be perceived as right or wrong. If you know that the criticism is wrong, then why are you so agitated? If a person made a mistake and unjustifiably judged you, how come their mistake becomes yours to the extent that you are the one paying an emotional price for it? This is the right time to remind you that any emotional response is never a standalone external entity which explodes inside you, but a product of an internal regulator which is made from your thoughts. For this reason, an internal reaction to these thoughts triggers an impulse which pushes you to react to criticism with storming emotions. How amazing it is that we are convinced we must get insulted and angry. Now hold it off for a second and think; why? Do you really need everybody to think that you are always right, successful, strong and wise? Does other people‘s opinion really seal your fate? If you truly feel happy, welcomed and desirable only while being approved by others, you will find yourself spending a lot of energy and time pleasing them. In this case, will you have enough mental real estate left to flourish and live your life authentically?

When criticism is right, consider whether your mistakes justify emotional turmoil and intense negative feelings. Bear in mind, turmoil will erupt only if you stimulate and feed it. Since nobody is expecting you to be perfect, the only useful thought at these moments would be: I made a mistake and I will try to fix it. I know it may sound too simple (it really is simple as a matter of fact), yet it takes learning, practice and persistence to assimilate these understandings as a new emotional existence.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is an evidence-based proven approach to help you overcome cognitive distortions and become a realistic and resilient individual. Call us to schedule an appointment.



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